In a season of beneficence, I profess the best gifts I ever received were unplanned, unsought and maybe unwarranted. Their worth? Immeasurable.
Creative influences ran rampant through my maternal lineage with aunts, uncles and cousins who were always painting, drawing, singing, playing instruments. The physical artifacts of those talents still adorn our houses on canvas, in ceramic or handcrafted leather covers on family Bibles.
My paternal clan carried similar motivations in different form. One aunt’s skill with fabric delivered an occupation while my father’s ease with the written word became his vocation.
So as a child, keeping myself busy and entertained was never a question. My imagination made for a deep well. It carried me into adolescence where I graduated with honors for artistic pursuits and headed off to college to further those aims.
After a year in a university my art major transformed into history, leaving behind what everyone told me were fanciful avenues. I surrendered to pedestrian expectation and kept part of myself at bay.
It was my early 20s when my mother dropped an acoustic guitar into my hands one Christmas. The shock was thorough.
Bear in mind, I wanted a guitar as a small child. I still have Dad’s wooden T-square upon which I scrawled strings, a sound hole and my name then hung it across my shoulders with shoestrings before strumming out imaginary chords.
Musical instruction was beyond question. After my parents split, my mother valiantly raised two children on the income from jobs like veterinary technician and a secretary for a struggling minor league baseball team. A bookkeeper title was high cotton to us.
In middle school, a Les Paul knock-off in the Sears-Roebuck catalog beckoned me, yet the $100 price tag might as well have been $1 million for us. I settled for carving a facsimile from some plywood discovered on a trash heap, then painting it to look like the sunburst Gibson imitation I coveted.
Though I loved music, I soon extinguished any dreams of playing it. Sports and other things absorbed those energies. So I was floored by the six-string surprise all those years later.
Real or perceived, disappointment emblazons and Mom remembered, as mothers always do.
Perhaps the sore spot she salved belonged to her as much as me, maybe more so.
I spent the following year with that guitar obsessively attached to me, carrying it everywhere except to the bathroom. The rudiments of music theory emerged, along with their amazing corollary between mathematics and sound. Diligence paid off in rapid progress.
With my athletic days past, ensemble musical efforts kept me plugged into the magic of collaboration, where the loss of ego could craft a greater sum from its parts. Like my childhood creative pursuits, music gifted distraction from the material austerity in which I dwelled.
My appreciation of audible art deepened in a way I could have never foreseen. There was technical awe, certainly. The way others moved me emotionally through sound or word or story, I could now channel into my own efforts.
What that guitar did was put me back in touch with the nature of who I am and what gives my life meaning. Those re-emergent creative pursuits became a prism to cast my world in wondrous hue.
Plus, in the throes of scarcity still — where my biggest monthly check is the medical disability payment that doubles my income and edges me past the poverty threshold by a slim 25 percent — those artistic outlets provide distraction and relevance.
Eventually, a stranger liberated that first guitar from my parked car on the southern edge of the University of South Alabama one evening. It wouldn’t be the last instrument stolen from me however the doors that guitar opened, a thief couldn’t close.
Cognizance of the true value of art, its relay of the human condition and the oasis it provides from the mundane world was an unexpected part of that gift handed to me decades ago. It’s integral to my being.
And in roundabout fashion, it soothed a parent’s gnawing disappointment, returning the comfort she handed to her son. You won’t find that in the Sears-Roebuck catalog.